The Descendant House is the runner-up in the 2022 Andersen Bright Ideas Awards in the single family category. Explore all of this year’s single family and multifamily winners and runners-up on our Awards page.
An Austin couple had been living in their home for 10 years when a substantial overhaul became pressing to mitigate compounding maintenance and structural issues. Despite the home’s midcentury pedigree—it was designed by local architect Roland Roessner in the mid-1950s—a failing foundation made it impractical to remodel as they originally intended. After gaining approval from the Historic Landmark Commission, they instead made plans to rebuild and start fresh.
Located on a tree-lined street a few miles from downtown Austin, the original home was sited on a steeply sloping, wooded lot, perched to negotiate the hilly terrain while thoughtfully engaging with the natural surroundings. Envisioning a new home that would create space for two additional generations—their daughter’s family and young grandson—the couple turned to Matt Fajkus Architecture to reimagine the midcentury residence for their expanded family unit.
The new home is configured in three overlapping volumes, clad in different materials to delineate function, each volume designed to meet the needs of one—or several—segments of the family. Anchoring the house to the site is the masonry volume, which includes guest and utilitarian functions, and acts as a transitional space from private to public. The bright and airy wood and glass volume includes communal family space for all generations to enjoy, along with the grandparents’ living quarters. The white stucco mass soars above the tree canopy, and comprises the younger generation’s family space.
Acting as a fulcrum to the wood and glass volume and the stucco volume, a blue millwork core consolidates and conceals auxiliary functions—including the pantry, powder room, and stair—while linking the first floor to the second. "The blue core fulcrum is an architectural highlight," shares Principal Architect Sarah Johnson of Matt Fajkus Architecture. "I love the idea of a single clear conceptual strategy for handling the auxiliary spaces that allows them to exist effortlessly in the home, while at the same time, doing a lot of work for the overall design," she says. By clustering these auxiliary elements, space is freed up at the home’s perimeter to maximize glazing and emphasize connection to the landscape and surroundings.
Descending down the hillside, the aptly named "Descendant House" is also a nod to the familial tie of the three cohabitating generations. The relationship to site is paramount, as is an intelligent approach to energy efficiency, considering the many surrounding microclimates. Sun exposure decreases as the home terraces down the hill, and social spaces with large expanses of glass were deliberately pulled toward these lower tiers to take advantage of tree cover. "Daylighting and natural ventilation are at the core of this house’s architectural expression and articulation," explains Johnson. Notably, the blue core fulcrum aids in this effort by allowing high-use family spaces to be opened up at the perimeter, freely ushering in light and air.
Although the new home largely preserved the midcentury structure’s carefully-considered footprint, the original split-level configuration was revamped to incorporate family gathering spaces all on one level. Of these communal spaces, the kitchen holds special significance to the family who cherishes time cooking together and gathering in this central hub. Holding a prominent place between the living and dining rooms, the kitchen was positioned to take advantage of soaring views through the oak trees and over the creek.
Throughout the home’s program, family togetherness is a clear undercurrent of the design, with space being thoughtfully allocated to support the family’s interests and priorities. "The interior environment is uniquely suited to this family, while adaptable enough for future generations to find their place within the home," underscores Johnson.
Learn more about all the 2022 winners at andersenawards.dwell.com.
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